Apple and Facebook are two Silicon Valley titans that have a stranglehold on the digital world. And until quite recently, it seems like they have each been content to dominate their respective arenas of technology: Apple’s being mobile and Facebook’s being social. Of course every Web 2.0 company understands the need to not be the best at one thing but at least try to be the best at everything, and recent projects from Apple and Facebook that have surfaced reveal they are both taking this to heart. Looks like some toes are about to get stepped on.
Facebook gets mobile
Facebook’s been rather quiet on the mobile scene. Its official app hasn’t been anything to write home about (unless you’re complaining about it, as many have), it hasn’t released an iPad app yet, and all those Facebook phone rumors haven’t panned out (at least yet) unless you’re counting the deep Facebook integration with the INQ Cloud. When Apple announced that iOS 5 would feature Twitter at its core, it seemed solidified that Facebook’s mobile ambitions have either stalled or are in flux. But after yesterday’s revelation, we’re more inclined to think Facebook might want to go its own way. Details about a forthcoming Facebook photo-sharing app of some sort surfaced, showing off a highly-developed project that would take elements from all the most popular photo-sharing apps out there and combine them with the mass appeal that the world’s largest social network has. It’s uncertain whether this is a standalone app that will complement Facebook or something to be woven into its current app; whatever it is, it’s getting hype for all the right reasons. It would be a natural transition for Facebook to segueway into mobile: The camera phone is inarguably one of the most popular features of the smartphone, and photo-sharing apps (especially those that integrate with Facebook) are big business. Take into account that Facebook is the world’s most popular photo-sharing platform, and you can see the progression toward the company getting a firm foot in the mobile door.
Adding to Facebook’s mobile mix is this Project Spartan business. Facebook is allegedly planning to redesign its apps for the mobile Safari browser via HTML 5. The assumption here is that the social network wants to take away some of the strength Apple’s App Store gives it over mobile while also giving users a way to access apps on mobile browsers. A Facebook Web app store has possibilities, but call us skeptics for the time being. But if anything, it’s an indication Facebook isn’t totally content playing second fiddle.
Apple gets social
Facebook’s not the only one edging in on another’s territory. Apple has filed a patent application to connect iOS users to those in their general vicinity who have similar interests. “A user of a mobile device can identify another user using another mobile device who is close by, if both users have requested to participate in networking. Common interests and experiences of two or more users located close to each other can be identified from content, including automatically created usage data of the mobile device.” The patent goes on to explain that users will be notified about their potential friend and “means of initiating communication” will be provided. Apple says meeting new people with similar backgrounds can be difficult and time-consuming, and letting your iOS device pull your data and then search the area for another iOS user with similar software could cut down on the tedious process. Bundle this with some sort of platform to find, collect, and access these found contacts and you have a viable Apple social network on (or rather, in) your hands.
Right off the bat, this doesn’t seem as fluid a step as Facebook’s mobile-photo project does. There have been third party apps with similar concepts that have been passed off as creepy or raise privacy concerns. Of course, being an official iOS app means it will bear more weight with users, but after Locationgate, not every Apple aficionado is as trusting with this information. That said, it has promise: The immediate fanfare social app Color received was due to its technology and revolutionary way of seeing social networks in relation to geography. If Apple can harvest this idea and avoid Color’s missteps, the app could find a fast following. And the very things that Color got wrong, Apple notoriously gets right. Simple, intuitive UI, well-executed product launches, automatic user base. Color co-founder Peter Pham (who recently left the company), a former employee of Apple, praised its self-explanatory applications and UIs, saying Color wanted to mimic this – something it wasn’t able to do, partially contributing to its user isolation. And the fact that Color hasn’t been able to build a database of loyal years means the app hasn’t be able to work as it should, and everything iOS comes with hoards of fans willing to try its services at launch.
Are Apple and Facebook stepping into the ring?
Just because Apple and Facebook have respective social and mobile aspirations, does it mean the two are about to become enemies? There are two of the most powerful companies in the world that also happened to have a bit of a past. There was some documented fallout after Facebook pulled integration with Apple’s Ping service, and there have been ample undocumented whispers about remaining tensions between these two ambitious companies. An all-out public airing of grievances a la the Facebook-Google data wars fiasco seems unlikely, as both Facebook and Apple tend to keep their business cards close to their chests. But it’s clear that being the best at one thing isn’t good enough, and each know that mobile and social platforms and applications are only going to continue dominating the digital landscape. Having a tight grip on one simply isn’t enough.